Delta biometrica

Delta launched the first biometric terminal in the US at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2018, giving  customers flying direct to an international destination the option of using facial recognition technology from curb to gate. Image via Delta Air Lines

As technological advances, such as biometric verification, luggage tracking and digital wayfinding, become commonplace at airports, 5G networks will be necessary to ensure a strong connection for all stakeholders.

Boingo last week announced its launch of neutral host cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) and Wi-Fi networks at the newly opened Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). The high-density Wi-Fi offers passengers free connectivity at 5 Mbps, with paid speeds up to 100 Mbps, while its 5G-ready DAS network is in place to support multiple tier one carriers in the coming years.

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5G is the fifth generation of cellular network technology, after 1G (the first mobiles), 2G (text-enabled mobiles), 3G (smartphones) and 4G (multimedia smartphones). It builds on previous generations with high-speed networks designed to maintain performance for a vast number and diversity of devices.

“5G specifications address dense areas, which directly applies to indoor use cases like airports,” said Dr. Derek Peterson, chief technology officer, Boingo Wireless. “Its benefits include higher throughput, lower latency, larger bandwidths and bringing the radio closer to the edge via smaller cells. Massive Internet of Things (IoT) is also a main pillar of the standard.”

Possible 5G Airport Use Cases, Courtesy of Dr. Derek Peterson

Amplified passenger connectivity through turbo-charged networks
Boarding via fingerprints/facial recognition
Smart luggage tracking
Ultrafast streaming and downloading
Personalized wayfinding
Food delivery to gate
Enhanced airport operations powered by artificial intelligence
Robotics that serve as a passenger concierge

5G relies on narrow wavelength signals, so it requires a closer-range, hyper-dense antenna node infrastructure, which is a significant barrier to 5G proliferation. That’s where Boingo’s infrastructure expertise comes in.

As the largest operator of airport Wi-Fi and DAS in the US, Boingo takes a convergence approach to 5G infrastructure: it combats high smartphone usage using both licensed 5G and unlicensed networks, such as the new Wi-Fi 6, in a complementary manner. Wi-Fi 6 meets key 5G specifications, and is equipped with innovative features to support data demands at high speed in dense use cases.


Image via Boingo

In addition to the Wi-Fi 6- and 5G-ready DAS network at MSY, Boingo announced in August a partnership with Verizon Wireless to launch its 5G Ultra Wideband service at select venues, including airports. The partnership combines Boingo’s technical expertise in networking large, densely populated areas, with Verizon’s 5G network expansion. Deployment is underway.

Earlier this year, Boingo launched a trial Wi-Fi 6 network at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, California – the first known deployment of Wi-Fi 6 at a US airport. Samsung provided SNA staff with early release 802.11ax-chip Galaxy devices, allowing them to leverage Wi-Fi 6’s high data rates and speeds for administrative tasks and streaming.

In 2018, Boingo deployed a trial private LTE cellular network on the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL). CBRS is a new 3.5 GHz spectrum delivered on a shared spectrum model. Previously only available to the Navy, the FCC opened 3.5 GHz to licensed and general access users, including Boingo, and it’s seen as a key spectrum for 5G. Based on its DAL deployments, Boingo has received interest from multiple partners to launch CBRS.

In 2020, Boingo will continue collaborating with its airport partners to map out 5G, Wi-Fi 6, CBRS and IoT upgrades to improve the passenger experience and enhance operations. It sees many use cases for 5G, including some yet to be imagined.